BEST OF 2013: 40-31

occultist cover

40. OCCULTIST, “Death Sigils” (Primitive Ways) — We recently talked up this gnarly, vicious blackened hardcore unit from Richmond, Va., but no amount of praise is quite enough to bestow on Occultist’s nasty debut album “Death Sigils.” From Kerry Zylstra’s destructive and authoritative lead howls, to the band’s mix of death metal, hardcore, and black metal, there’s so much to love about this smoldering and caustic record, as well as their face-bashing live shows. If you missed out on this, correct that error right away. Your hearing will get decimated, and your neck will be all kinds of sore when you’re done, but it’ll be worth the beating. (Oct. 1)

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jucifer album

39. JUCIFER, “за волгой для нас земли нет” (Nomadic Fortress) — This world-weary, heavy traveling duo never are at a loss for inspiration or creativity, and their vast, amazing new double album that tells the story of Volgograd (formerly known as Stalingrad) is one of their most ambitious albums to date. From narration in Russian, to long passages that boast both beauty and savagery, to the epic length of this whole journey, everything about this album is big, powerful, and emotional. Gazelle Amber Valentine’s guitar playing is sludgy and massive, as are her vocals, and Edgar Livengood’s drumming both keeps the pace and decimates the earth’s crust. This takes a patient listener to absorb at once, but the effort is rewarding. (July 17)

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38. HELEN MONEY, “Arriving Angels” (Profound Lore) — In the realm of all of heavy metal, Helen Money’s third album certainly is one of the most unique and head-turning displays. First, the primary instrument on this album is composer Alison Chesley’s electrified cello, and before you go thinking that means this is some kind of classy, snooty thing (which would be a stupid way for you to think), instead you’ll meet sludge and dark, drone power. Joined by drummer Jason Roeder (Sleep, Neurosis), Chesley reaches the deepest, darkest corners of doom like no other musician before her has dared, and the eight songs on this record are a revelation that have paid off in dividends for me, as a listener, ever since hearing this at the turn of 2013. You’ve never heard a release like this one, and Chesley’s music is welcome on this site, and in the metal world as a whole, anytime she chooses to gift us with her prowess. (Feb. 5)

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APMD cover

37. ALL PIGS MUST DIE, “Nothing Violates This Nature” (Southern Lord) — Talk about an album that punches you in the face, rubs your mouth in the dirt, and insists that you like it and demand more. APMD’s second full-length is a rowdy, channeled, furious affair that mixes hardcore, death metal, and grind into a damaging package that might make you feel violated. If you’re overly sensitive or too afraid to encounter the nastier elements of society, then this album might not be for you. But if you need a record to help you blow off some steam in a productive way, this is the one for you. Powered by members of Hope Conspiracy, Converge, and Bloodhorse, these guys espouse hatred and disgust as well as anyone, and with their rage and Southern Lord’s mighty arms, who knows how far this band’s rampage will go? That’s frightening. (July 23)

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cloud rat cover

36. CLOUD RAT, “Moksha” (Halo of Flies) — There’s a huge disadvantage to releasing an album early in a calendar year, because usually by the time these end-of-year lists arrived, those records have been overpowered by newer, more overhyped releases. But if you’re Cloud Rat, you don’t care about any of that, because your “Moksha” is that fucking good. Grind, hardcore, and one of the most eye-opening cover songs of the year (they totally own “Needle and the Damage Done,” which is no easy feat) make this effort one of the most earthquaking, awakening records of the year, and Cloud Rat has to be on anyone’s short list of bands that should be leading the charge for metal and hardcore over the next decade. Madison Marshall’s vocals make her one of the more explosive singers anywhere, and the rest of the band backs her up with passionate, churning performances that should stick with you for a long time to come. Nearly a year after getting this album, I still listen to it constantly. (Jan. 22)

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Lychgate cover

35. LYCHGATE, self-titled (Gilead Media) — Oh, what a creepy, creepy record. You already have the band’s foreboding black metal that is dark and dangerous, but then you spill in those liturgical organs that drape over these songs, and you have enough to chill all the blood in your body. Really, play this music at any annual haunted house, and you go from a cheesy Halloween attraction to the scariest place in town, easily. But I don’t want to make you think it’s some horror gimmick going on here, because it totally is not. This is a massive, magical black metal debut from a band of veterans (including Greg Chandler of doom stalwarts Esoteric) who use mystery and murk to strike the perfect elements of terror and fear, and each moment of this nearly 38-minute-long album should have you immersed in their dark power but also looking over your shoulder for any evil spirits fixing to do you wrong. Can’t wait for their second record, which is due for release in 2014. (April 29)

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YONL cover

34. YEAR OF NO LIGHT, “Tocsin” (Debemur Morti) — French instrumentalists Year of No Light never fail to bring the drama and wonder, and on “Tocsin,” their first non-soundtrack full-length in three years, they reminded us why they were so good at sweeping us off our feet and taking us on incredible journeys into the atmosphere and stars. Often mauling with pure metallic power, and sometimes mixing in alien soundscapes into their work, this imaginative sextet combines all kinds of sounds and power into this five-track, 57-minute record that should fill in the gaps for anyone missing ISIS and gives something stunning to spark fans of bands like Neurosis and Russian Circles. This band always comes up with something spellbinding and intoxicating, and “Tocsin” is the finest release to date. (Nov. 29)

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craven idol cover

33. CRAVEN IDOL, “Towards Eschaton” (Dark Descent) — In a year of total death metal dominance, it wasn’t easy to break out of the pack and establish your power. Yet, UK-based Craven Idol were able to do that on their hellacious debut “Towards Eschaton,” one of many strong releases brought forth by Dark Descent this year. These pseudonym-monikered hell beasts picked up a ton of accolades along the way and scorched plenty of earth on their eight-track, nearly 34-minute opus that pretty much shows its hands with song titles such as “Sworn Upon the Styx,” “Codex of Seven Dooms,” “Aura of Undeath,” and “Left to Die” and makes good on those premonitions by delivering filthy, grisly death metal (with just a touch of proggy weirdness) that should make the old gods proud.  (Oct. 15)

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imperium dekadenz cover

32. IMPERIUM DEKADENZ, “Meadows of Nostalgia” (Season of Mist) — German black metallers Imperium Dekadenz typically conjure feelings of great, frosty forests and the unforgiving chill of deep winter. But on their excellent fourth record “Meadows of Nostalgia,” their usual approach thaws just a bit (you can hear some of that in the sounds of trickling water that plays on the album), and the music bursts with color that makes me think a lot more about the early stages of spring, when things come back to life. The music is atmospheric and soaring, there are lush, textured instrumentals, violent, creaky blasts of black metal thunder, and so many twists and turns that you’ll be scratching your head wondering where they’ll go next. Horaz and Vespasian have yet to let us down, and “Meadows” shows a new side to the band that certainly would be welcome if it surfaces again on their next album. (March 15)

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31. BOTANIST, “IV: Mandragora” (Flenser Recordings) —  One-man black metal project Botanist has had Armageddon in its windshield since the start. Its focus, the character The Botanist, a crazed scientist who lives in seclusion in the Verdant Realm surrounded by his beloved plants, imagines the downfall of humankind because of our destructive, nature-assaulting tendencies. Hard to see fault in him, really. “IV: Mandragora” is the third Botanist release (his debut constituted both I and II), and it’s musically the most diverse work of his short, but productive career. The hammered dulcimer-led music is going far beyond black metal’s borders and into all kinds of darkness, and on “IV,” melody is at its highest point yet, making for one of Botanist’s most listenable collections so far. Yes, it’ll still probably be a tough experience for a non-adventurous listener, but for anyone who has followed The Botanist’s plight, or who just like their metal a little more daring and off the wall, this is one hell of a fun album that’ll even make you forget that the main character wants you, and everyone you hold dear, dead. (April 16)

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